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Easy Street

Big mutual 0109
Year :
Cast :
Charles Chaplin, Edna Purviance, Eric Campbell, Albert Austin, Henry Bergman, Loyal Underwood, Janet Miller Sully, Charlotte Mineau, Tom Wood, Lloyd Bacon, Frank J. Coleman, John Rand, William Gillespie, Erich von Stroheim Jr, James T. Kelly
Production :
Description :
Chaplin’s last four Mutual-Chaplin Specials are among his finest work. While each of the preceding Mutual comedies took approximately one month each to make, Chaplin took more time with the last four (ten months in total), which extended his twelve-month period to approximately eighteen months. For Easy Street, his ninth film for Mutual and the most famous of the twelve, Chaplin ordered the first of the T-shaped street sets to be built that he would consistently utilize to provide a perfect backdrop to his comedy. The look and feel of Easy Street evoke the South London of his childhood (the name “Easy Street” suggests “East Street,” the street of Chaplin’s birthplace). Poverty, starvation, drug addiction, and urban violence—subjects that foreshadow the social concerns in his later films—are interwoven in “an exquisite short comedy” wrote critic Walter Kerr, “humor encapsulated in the regular rhythms of light verse.” (23) In 1930 Chaplin told Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein that the scene in Easy Street in which Charlie scatters food from a box to a group of poor children as if they were chickens was indicative of his dislike for children. “You see, I did that because I despise them. I don’t like children,” he said. Eisenstein, who was not surprised by the remark, noted that those who normally do not like children are other children. (24) Chaplin was, in fact, intimidated and felt rather inferior to children. He wrote of children: “Most of them have assurance, have not yet been cursed with self-consciousness. And one has to be very much on his best behavior with children because they detect our insincerity.” (25) All of the action in Chaplin’s films was carefully choreographed. As a result, there were no injuries to the cast while making the films, with the exception of a minor accident involving Chaplin on December 16, 1916, during the filming of Easy Street. He recalled, “We had one accident in that whole series. It happened in Easy Street. While I was pulling a street-lamp over the big bully to gas him, the head of the lamp collapsed and its sharp metal edge fell across the bridge of my nose, necessitating two surgical stitches.” (26) The injury also held up production, as the stitches prevented him from wearing makeup for several days. The injury, the size of the production, and a particularly rainy season in Hollywood contributed to a delay in the release of the film. Upon its release, Easy Street was hailed as a watershed moment in Chaplin’s career. Text by Jeffrey Vance, adapted from his book Chaplin: Genius of the Cinema (New York, 2003) © 2009 Roy Export SAS
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